Senate Passes Food Assistance Measure


By Rachel Begle

DES MOINES – The Iowa Senate engaged in a heated partisan debate Tuesday over legislation designed to bolster food assistance efforts in Iowa that left lawmakers hungering for decorum, civility and order.

The wide-ranging discussion of Senate File 439 took in Norman Borlaug, tough pioneer times in the mid-1800s, and hard-luck stories from senators who grew up in challenging times or weather the state’s farm crisis of the 1980s.

Things got testy, however, when Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, berated Republican Gov. Terry Branstad for vetoing a similar bill last year seeking to help food banks and other emergency feeding organizations when he enjoys a six-figure salary, a state-provided mansion, pension benefits and a full-time chef.

That drew protests from GOP senators who demanded that Hogg stick to the content of the bill. Similar “point-of-order” disruptions came from the opposite side of the aisle when Republicans attempted to make their points about over-reaching government and how Iowans would be able to maintain dignity and provide for themselves if they were allowed to keep more of their incomes via reduced taxes.

“Things got to be pretty dog-gone condescending and I, for one, really resent that,” said Sen. Sandy Greiner, R-Washington, who told bill supporters that the debate almost turned her to a “no” vote. Others said the feisty exchange was an indication that legislators were getting anxious to adjourn a session hit its 93rd calendar day Tuesday.

In the end, the Senate voted 34-15 to approve the measure that would create a state tax credit for commodities suitable for human consumption that are donated to a food bank or pantry in Iowa. The proposed state tax credit would apply to tax years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2014, would allow individual or corporate taxpayers to claim a tax credit for 15 percent of the fair market value of donated commodities up to $5,000.

Senate File 439 provides that the tax credit would be non-refundable, but would allow a taxpayer to carry forward the tax credit for up to five years. Taxpayers would have the option of taking the capped tax credit or an itemized charitable deduction, but not both.

The bill also creates an Iowa food-bank initiative administered by the state Department of Human Services funded with a $2 million state general fund are appropriation for programs that include the purchase of food, the improvement of food storage and distribution infrastructure, and instruction regarding nutrition and diet.

Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, tried unsuccessfully to remove the state appropriation, saying the bill had “morphed” into a new government program and telling fellow senators “We should not be getting into the grocery business.”

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, the bill’s floor manager, said one in five Iowa children currently struggle with hunger-related issues and more than 408,000 are “food insecure” because they are unable to afford the food they need. She urged the Senate to make Iowa the 38th state to make investments in emergency food and nutrition programs and she urged the governor to sign the measure this year.

“Gov. Branstad, we’ve compromised with a public-private partnership and I believe we have a better bill before us,” she said. “If you want Iowa to be the healthiest state in the country, it starts with putting food in our children’s bellies.”

In other action, the Senate voted 38-12 to increase the fee to $10 effective upon enactment for Iowans who need to replace a lost or stolen driver’s license or non-operator’s identification card. Currently, the fee to receive a duplicate license is $3 while the voluntary replacement of an ID card is $1.

Senate File 224 extends the time frame for renewing a license from five years to eight years for drivers between the ages of 17 years, 11 months and 72. Drivers older that age 72 will be required to renew their operator’s license every two years under the bill that now goes to the governor for his consideration.

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